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October 24, 2007

Blasts may have been accident: Police

A powerful blast at a Philippine mall that killed 11 people may have been caused by an accidental gas leak although a bomb is not being totally ruled out, police said Tuesday.

Police had earlier said traces of military explosives were found at the site of Friday's blast at the Glorietta mall in Manila's Makati financial district.

'We can say that our theory is that it was an accidental gas explosion based on the facts and evidence that we have gathered in the scene,' national police chief General Avelino Razon told reporters after a security meeting with President Gloria Arroyo.

'But we are not totally discarding the possibility that it was a bomb blast,' said.

The explosion originated in the basement of the mall and caused massive damage to four floors of the complex.

Experts from the FBI, the Australian Federal Police and local police are trying to determine the cause of the blast.

Razon said investigators had not found bomb fragments or a bomb crater at the site of the explosion.

Explosives experts 'went through the debris and all the nooks and crannies of the building, they have not found any crater to suggest an explosion coming from a bomb,' said Manila police chief Geary Barias.

Results of an initial probe by ordnance experts that said traces of a military explosive were found at the site may have been misleading, Barias said, adding that such chemicals could be found in many household products such as hairspray.

Barias said the investigation was 'leaning towards an accident' although he would not discount the possibility it was a terrorist attack.

He said initial findings showed that a tank of diesel and methane from industrial waste stored in the basement may have caused the explosion.

Barias said that Ayala Land Inc., the operator of the mall, could face charges of 'multiple homicide and (causing) physical injuries' if it is found to have improperly stored fuel and waste, causing an explosion.

In a statement to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Ayala Land said it has 'conducting detailed engineering investigation and analysis ... to determine the extent of the damage caused by the incident'.

The company said it was taking measures to ensure that all the victims and their families were 'attended to with maximum care'.

Ayala said the explosion was not expected to cause a significant loss in revenue.

'Although we are currently undertaking an assessment of the total financial impact of this incident, we initially estimate the physical damage to amount to approximately 100 million pesos,' or about 2.26 million dollars, the statement said. Courtesy AFP

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